August 17 2013 09:48AM
The Sharks are the last of the Oilers’ new division rivals to qualify for the playoffs last year, and they’re one of three teams (along with Los Angeles and Vancouver) I see as real quality in the new Pacific Division. How does Edmonton stack up?
Again, I’ve included one basic statistic at each position on the depth charts below. For forwards, I’ve used points from last season projected over an 82-game schedule, for defencemen time on ice per game in 2012-13, and for goalies their 2012-13 save percentage. Players in italics did not play a significant number of games in the NHL in 2012-13; red indicates numbers come from the AHL or Europe while green indicates a previous NHL season. And again, the same caveat: these depth charts are my best approximation of each team and the line combinations should not be seen as definitive
Less than six months ago, the story was that the Sharks had blown their window to win and needed to rebuild. Looking at their forward corps, it’s difficult to get behind that theory. Sure, Joe Thornton just turned 34 and Patrick Marleau is 33, but Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are the next generation – Couture has his whole career ahead of him and Pavelski’s still in his prime.
More than that, this is just a deep, balanced group. The center depth one through three is fantastic, Marleau is a top-end winger and Brent Burns sure looked like one last season. Martin Havlat’s injuries and top prospect Tomas Hertl’s experience are question marks, but with Torres, Kennedy and Wingels the Sharks have solid depth options that can move up if necessary.
In the top-six, Edmonton compares decently. That Sharks’ top line outplayed the Oilers’ version last year, but depending on the youth’s development curve and how Thornton/Marleau decline they’ll probably catch up in the next year or two. On line two, I prefer the Yakupov/Perron combination to Hertl/Havlat and I think it’s enough to saw off the difference between Gagner and Couture and put those lines on semi-even footing. Beyond that, the quartet of Torres, Pavelski, Kennedy and Wingels is significantly better in my view than the Oilers equivalents of Hemsky, Gordon, Jones and Smyth, and both teams have a couple of iffy guys and no real standouts in the minor league forward group after that.
Defence and Goaltending
In recent years San Jose has chosen to split up their two top-end defencemen – Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic – in order to add some dimension to their defence corps; that has allowed them to use younger players like Matt Irwin and Justin Braun in key roles. That top-end talent is the difference – from three through eight the Sharks and the Oilers match up well but Vlasic is a superior defenceman to Ladislav Smid and the Oilers simply don’t have a player like Dan Boyle, even at his age.
The Sharks will need to replace Boyle in the next few years (he turned 37 this summer), but given that Brent Burns can always be moved back to defence that wouldn’t seem to be a major problem.
In net, Antti Niemi has emerged as a pretty good start, near the bottom end of the NHL’s top-third the last few years, and he’s likely a little ahead of Devan Dubnyk. In the regular season, the Oilers probably knot up the goaltending battle by having a massively superior two and three goaltender (Stalock and Sateri are one of the weaker 2/3 combos in the NHL) but in a playoff series Niemi should give the Sharks the edge.
Reports of the death of the Sharks have been greatly exaggerated; they retooled on the fly last year by moving out underachieving veterans (Douglas Murray, Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus) in favour of draft picks and while there are some older players in key roles San Jose has a young group ready to step in and replace them as soon as the need arises.
They look to be likely outside the Oilers’ reach next year, though Edmonton can always hope than Antti Niemi spends drinking beer and playing video games.
Recently around the Nation Network
Ross Smith looks at the greatest players of all time - his choice for the top title may surprise - but for Oilers fans this Jets Nation piece is worth looking at for the first picture alone.
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